Dinner Chez Dumm: How We Joined an Organic CSA…in China..and made Sichuan Style Eggplant

Ok, so I’ve been slacking on the “Dinner Chez Dumm” posts.  It’s not that we haven’t been cookings, its more that my food photography has been seriously sucking lately.

It might also be that for that week and a half I was sick, I ate toast for dinner every night.

Not exactly inspiring foodie blog fodder.

But anyways, hopefully we are back!  And on a related note, we joined a CSA!  That’s right, we are now the proud recipients of mostly organic produce, every Friday.

This is a. huge. deal.

There are more pesticides used in China than in most places around the world. Furthermore, the pesticide industry is not really regulated.  And have I mentioned the somewhat disturbing business trend here in China of substituting harmful or dangerous chemical substances for not-so-dangerous ones?  Let’s just say there are issues beyond the whole “milk with a side of melamine” scandal.

Before we signed up, I was a little skeptical.

And I was in good company.  Most of the housekeepers and maids here seem skeptical.  It did cross my mind how easy it would be for a farmer to take pesticide-covered but bug-eaten produce, call it organic, and sell it to yuppie foreigners at a premium.

What can I say, this is a place in which the government must routinely crack down on factories making fake salt.  Fake salt, people.  If I wasn’t a total cynic before, I am now.

Which is why I am so, so happy to say though that the produce we received was not only beautiful but it seemed about as pesticide-free as you can possible get in this corner of China.  And Chris said the farmer who did the delivery was kind and smart and wonderful to boot.

That’s the thing about China, you can’t go around hating, because for every scary story, there are just so many good ones out there about good people doing really great things.

And so we are ECSTATIC about our lovely organic veggies.  Last week we received green and purple long beans, 4 different kinds of leafy greens, a bag of cute little baby potatoes, and some really lovely Japanese eggplants-the long skinny kind.

Last Friday was our first night cooking with organic produce in over 4 months.  To celebrate, we made my favorite Sichuan dish: Fish Fragrant Eggplant.

Now for the un-indoctrinated, I should explain that this has nothing to do with fish.  There are no fishy ingredients, it doesn’t taste like fish, it doesn’t smell like fish, it doesn’t look like fish.

And since my food photos are turning out so terrible lately, it looks a little like Flickr user, Kirk K’s, vastly superior photo:

Image Source

This dish is savory, a little sour and a little sweet.  It’s addicting.

And it’s also surprisingly easy to make at home.

Since making this dish, I’ve purchased Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty cookbook, but she uses a slightly different preparation than I did.

I followed the instructions I found on this lovely blog, Appetite for China.  You should check it out, it’s fantastic.

You can also find the writer’s post and instructions for Yue-Xiang Zhe zi (Fish fragrant eggplant) here.

I really, really like that this writer’s version doesn’t call for deep-frying the eggplant.  I wouldn’t exactly call this a super low-fat dish, but her tweak does bring the amount of oil involved into the realm of totally reasonable.

In a rare fit of following directions, I made this dish exactly as written and it was really fantastic.  Chris thought it was even better than the version we get at some of our favorite ‘Chuan Cai places around here.

I’m copy-pasting Appetite for China‘s recipe below, but I really think you should just follow the link and check it out on her site.  Totally worth it.  Plus, if you don’t, I’ll feel a little like I’m plagiarizing.

Spicy Sichuan Eggplant, or “Fish-Fragrant Eggplant” From Appetite for China

Serves 4 as part of multi-course meal

1 1/2 pounds Asian eggplant
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons chili bean paste
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark rice vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow rice wine
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorn, or 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish

Slice each eggplant in half lengthwise, then slice each length into quarters.

In a small bowl, mix together chicken stock, chili bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, and sugar. Set aside.

In a wok, heat oil until just smoking. Add eggplants and stir-fry until outsides become golden brown and insides begin to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in stock-sauce mixture and mix well. Allow sauce to simmer for 2 minutes and eggplant to absorb sauce. Stir in cornstarch mixture to thicken sauce. Remove from heat, plate, and garnish with scallions.


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